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Loving Vincent

Tuesday, 13 February 2018  | Karly Michelle Edgar




I saw the movie
Loving Vincent last year, the world’s first fully-painted feature film, bringing Vincent van Gogh paintings to life. At the time I’d only skimmed one review that said the plot was basic but the painting was amazing. I ended up going on the first day it was screening at Melbourne’s Balwyn Cinema.

There were a grand total of 10 of us in the theatre (3 were my family and I).

It was a captivating experience.

It was beautiful.

It was engaging.

It was touching.

It was all-encompassing.

I’d go so far as to say it was magical.

As I left the theatre the only negative thought I had was that there were too many paintings that floated far too quickly off the screen. I now look forward to seeing it again so I can have a more thorough look – especially when it comes out on DVD and I can pause and re-wind.

The story is a travelling murder mystery following the path of a young man who, despite his initial reluctance, gets caught up in the mystery of discovering who Vincent really was, and what really happened at the end of his life. We gradually glean some idea of what happened and who Vincent may have been through the interpretation of the people he came in contact with. It is a lovely unfolding mystery of a persons’ character, not only of the mystery of what happened in the lead up to his death.

It was a journey that I got caught up in and one that paints a deeply sorrowful and yet very kind image of who Vincent may have been. He was a man who struggled all his life but finally discovered how much he loved painting. He also clearly suffered from some issues but, possibly, may have been much happier at the end of his life than it is sometimes portrayed, given that it is commonly believed that he must have had significant mental health issues.

As the review I read mentioned, the plot is quite straight forward, but I don’t think that is a bad thing. If it had been more complicated I would have been even more distracted from absorbing the paintings as they flew across the screen. Throughout most of the story, nothing is quite certain and yet there is a satisfactory ending.

Other than the painting and visual techniques engaged, which are spectacular, there is nothing flashy about this movie. Since seeing the movie I’ve read some other reviews that give it a fairly average rating, especially in regard to the storyline. But this made me a bit sad; I feel that those reviewers missed an opportunity.

Not all films are created with the same purpose and therefore I believe how we engage with them varies. There is also a delicate balance to critiquing art, something I also struggle with having studied theatre at art school. Part of the training, rightly so, is to develop the ability to analyse in minute detail, to search for the cracks, to notice the disconnections and to see how the individual parts contribute to the whole. This process can help you create good art but sometimes it contributes to being too focused on the separate parts, missing the opportunity of the experience. It’s all too easy to miss the forest for the trees.

This is a film in which we are meant to loose ourselves.

Loving Vincent is not an intentionally religious film, nor does it speak to any particular religious themes, but it is still one of the few films I would include in the category of ‘divine encounter’ that Robert Johnston writes about his book on approaching film theologically, Reel Spirituality. Divine encounter is a way of engaging with film that I believe must always be a surprise – we cannot plan it, or force it, and most likely we cannot reproduce it by watching the movie again, but in it we know we are in God’s presence. It wasn’t because I experienced any particular divine revelation from God. Rather, I believe it had to do with the feeling of the closeness of God through the beauty of what was made visible.

As adults, we do not often get to experience many moments of beauty and wonder in a world where science explains everything. I have no problem with science explaining everything, but an unfortunate by-product is sometimes the feeling that there is no mystery or wonder left in the world – both as individuals and as a society. As Brian Zahnd writes in Beauty Will Save the World, ‘A life stripped of beauty and mystery is a life barren of wonder, and a life without wonder is a kind of deep poverty’ (p.33). When it feels like there are so few opportunities for wonder and mystery, even within the church (a place of the deepest wonder and mystery of God), what hope is there of stumbling on it anywhere else?

Children live within a space of wonder and mystery much more easily that adults do as they, hopefully, exist within the world where the worries of adulthood have not yet caught up with them. But as adults we cry out for the experience of wonder and mystery just as deeply, even if we do not realise it. This film is an opportunity to rediscover a beauty that can’t help but direct us to God.

When going to see this film, prepare to be absorbed. Put aside the need to think of how you might describe it, analyse it, critique it. Put aside the need to consider how to comment on it. You can still do all that if you want, but just do it after. While in the cinema, practice single-mindedness – the one thing you have to do at this time is watch the film.

Karly Michelle Edgar is an artist whose work explores repetition, the desire for rest and spirituality. She loves to use and re-use old and discarded materials and believes everyone is creative. You can find more information about her work and workshops at www.karlymichelle.com.


Comments

Ian Hore-Lacy
February 14, 2018, 8:33PM
Thank you! It's now on my "to see" list!

But as a scientist let me disagree that science explains so much that it too is not an arena of beauty, wonder and mystery which directs one to the creator of what science examines.

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